Dallas' most unlikely Vietnamese restaurant is percolating up from the murky depths of an East Dallas dive bar. For years, Cosmo’s Lounge was known for its strong drinks, copious shot consumption and pizza if you needed something to pad your stomach. But over the years, a menu of specials has slowly been shifting the dialogue at the bar from pepperoni to pork shanks and Sriracha sauce.
Jackson Tran is the man behind the pork knuckles. He has been working with his mother, who cooked at Pho Pasteur for years, to bring a few Vietnamese classics to the menu. It started with banh mi sandwiches a few years ago. The sandwiches make use of crusty French bread, sliced pork and pork pâté and pickled carrots and daikon. Banh mi Monday has become a staple at the bar, and it has served as a launching point for other Vietnamese dishes.
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Over the summer, grilled pork was featured some weekends, with vegetables and steamed rice. Now that colder weather is here, hearty soups and curries are offered, warming up customers as much as the whiskey shots. Small egg rolls with crisp wrappers are almost always available.
A few weeks ago, Tran slid a plate with steaming pork knuckles across the bar. They’d been boiled down for a stock used in a wonton soup featured the same night. Meat, cartilage and tendons pulled easily from the bones, to be dipped in a spicy reduction of that same stock. It was hearty, humble eating, and it resembled the plates you’d find at your table if you were lucky to grow up in a Vietnamese household. The weekend specials are like a portal to culturally rich family communion, true to form all the way down to the cheap paper napkins handed out with each plate.
The pork parts were good, but the soup was even better. Hearty and rich, it packed enough heat to make me gasp as I ate. My friend tapped out before she finished her bowl — more noodles for me.
The last few meals I’ve had there have me secretly wishing Cosmo’s would go all the way, ditch the pizzas and become a full-blown Vietnamese restaurant, but the kitchen is too small to offer more than one or two dishes at a time. Maybe that’s for the better. It’s pretty cool that one of the best Vietnamese restaurants inside the loop requires a little work on the part of a diner, whether it’s showing up on the right day or even noticing the wax pencil lettering on the specials menu. Seeking out Tran’s Vietnamese home cooking is more than worth the effort.